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RARE Unrestored Original 1954 Chevrolet Corvette with One-Owner History!

Rare Finds: One of the Great Early Survivor Vettes of All Time

Jerry Heasley Apr 20, 2015
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Bob Brown was very disappointed he missed out on an “in pieces” ’54 Corvette—the ’54 from last month’s column. Readers may recall Larry Fisette found said ’54 stored in a garage in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, for 40 years. Little did Brown realize that Fisette already had a lead on another ’54 that would prove to be one of the great survivor Corvette finds of all time.

Two weeks passed when Fisette called Brown. Fisette was going to look at a ’54 Vette stored not far from Marion, Indiana. “Any chance I could go with you?” Brown asked. “Sure, why would I want to go by myself?” Fisette replied.

Brown grew up in Muncie, Indiana, about 30 miles from their destination. Hunting old cars is SOP (standard operating procedure) for Fisette. “The best car finder I have ever known,” Brown told me. Fisette’s major claim to fame was the stash of 21 semi-trailer loads of vintage cars and parts, including engines and a real Yenko Camaro.

1954 Chevrolet Corvette Rear View 2/6

“We eventually cleaned most of the dirt and grime off it and it is a real nice, clean original car. Even the medallion on the front is faded and looks like it could be replaced with a brand-new one, but, it’s the original one.” Brown looks back into history when he analyzes his ’54 Rare Find. “The taillight assemblies, where they epoxied them to the body, has a little line all the way around the taillights on both sides. That’s the way GM did it. The body parts are somewhat poor fitting and the glued taillamp assemblies are just exactly the way the cars were manufactured.”

1954 Chevrolet Corvette Interior 3/6

The seat upholstery is weathered, not real bright red like a restored car. Brown prefers the more orange color from baking in the sun for many years.

1954 Chevrolet Corvette Engine Bay 4/6

The engine bay is cryptic nirvana; “even the carburetors have late 1953 tags on them.”

Brown was pessimistic as the pair embarked on the 7-hour drive from Fisette’s De Pere Auto Center in De Pere, Wisconsin, to Indiana. “I told Larry how it was likely not a good car and if it was I possibly could not afford it.” Fisette, the veteran car hunter, just smiled and kept driving. Unbeknownst to Brown, Fisette had already made a deal with the owner if the car checked out. The ’54 “ended” on eBay, so Fisette called and negotiated. The owner wasn’t traveling from Florida to Indiana for nothing. He had inherited the car from his grandfather, the original owner, a Mr. Raymond Marchi of Revere, Massachusetts.

Upon arrival, the two men found the ’54 had been parked in a storage trailer inside a barn, “some year’s before Mr. Marchi’s death in 2010.” The ’54 was obviously unrestored and original. The body still wore its original white lacquer paint. Brown was intrigued to see original gas stains below the fuel filler door. “We hooked up a battery and hit the key. The engine turned over.” The ’54 was turning out to be, in Brown’s words, “a pretty solid citizen.”

The odometer read in the low 50s, the convertible top was shredded, and the brakes didn’t work. These features actually endeared Brown to the car. Here was a ’54 that the original owner drove and loved and kept in good running order. The more Brown looked at the car, the more he liked what he saw. “We got a whole packet of information showing Grandpa driving the car with his grandson who looks like he is maybe 7-8 years old. He’s the guy we bought it from.”

Original Corvette Owner Card 5/6

Brown received a box full of original documents, including this original “Corvette Owner” card that included the serial number of the car – E54S001149.

1954 Chevrolet Corvette Front View 6/6

Finding an unrestored original ’54 model with a one-owner history is almost impossible today. Brown’s ’54 ranks as one of the great survivor Rare Finds ever.

A newspaper article dated February 1954, showed a picture of Marchi accepting a key from the Chevrolet dealer. The caption said, “First Chevrolet Corvette sale” in Waltham, Massachusetts, at West End Chevrolet. The ’54 included original owner manuals, the 1,000-mile warranty and the registration number, and the Delco battery warranty for the original battery.

“The car’s serial number is 1149, which means it was the 149th Corvette made in 1954. So, it has the early bullet air cleaners instead of the dishpan air cleaners. It has the real short exhaust pipes instead of the longer ones because they hadn’t figured those problems out yet,” Brown recalled. He went on to say, “Even the carburetors have late 1953 tags on them. And the seats have the little tags under the upholstery that show they were manufactured in 1953 by the supplier to GM. Everything is dated 1953, even the jack.”

Turns out, Brown is a historian and a purist. This survivor was making much more sense for him compared to the ’54 in pieces that he missed out on a few weeks earlier. “I’ve been told this is probably the most documented early Corvette anybody has ever seen. We can literally tell the day it came out of the showroom because the delivery day is in the newspaper article as February 24, 1954, delivery day.” Brown purchased the ’54 directly from the grandson. Fisette was thrilled to put car and man together.


Do you have a Rare Find story or lead to share? Contact Jerry Heasley at jerryheasley@gmail.com.

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